Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus.

1410 Posts and Counting

Running the Six Minute Mile.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | February 20, 2018

No. 1,424

Image: thechiefinovationofficer.com

A lot of lawyers still bill time in 6 minute increments.  The idea behind this practice is appealing but wrong. Since there are 60 minutes in an hour, the six minute unit just happened to be a tenth of an hour or .1.  At the end of the day, you could add up all those .1’s, .3’s, .6’s etc. and come up with a number.

Problem was and is, we don’t think very well in .1’s or for that matter in multiples of 6.  Yes, you can get better with practice, but it just doesn’t come naturally. And we aren’t that good at keeping time anyway.  We’re too busy paying attention to the the details in the case.

But that isn’t even the real problem.  After you, the lowly associate, turn your time in for a month or so, somebody assembles it all with a computer.  Then somebody else, usually your supervising partner, goes over it.

“What this?’ you hear in a loud blast coming from your phone, “Only .4 charged for such and such?” Red pencils fly across the page. Meanwhile your mind races — 4 x 6 is 24, right? What’s wrong with 24?

The fact is, the pencil wielding partner wasn’t there and you were, but you might as well have been somewhere else because you don’t remember anything about that .4. Or should it have been .5?

Maybe that phone call comes from the client. “What’s this .6 charge for?” of course, it used to be .4 when you wrote it.  Somebody else adjusted your entry. But you can’t say that.

Keeping time is hard work.  It is easy to get sidetracked or distracted. But if you are able to keep really good time, picking up all those ,1’s, it will start to look like too much or too little to somebody else.

There is no perfect solution. Here’s a better one.  You could set your watch timer for 25 minutes, work it, write down .4 and take a break.

Or you could do what insurance companies do with their lawyer’s bills.  Decide how much time a task ought to take and write it down, no matter how long it actually takes. It will almost always take twice as long.

Its a lousy system, the 6 minute mile. So ditch it.

Instead, bill in 15 min, 30 min, 45 min and 1 hour increments, always rounding downward. Its easier to keep track of 15 minute intervals because you think that way. And if you have the power to set the rate, don’t charge an astronomical hourly. And quit trying to capture all those telephone calls.  Forget it unless you have a telephone conference that really lasts more than a half hour.

Why?  Because if your rate is too high or you charge too many stinky little .1’s, you’ll just end up giving it back when the case doesn’t justify the bill.

And go ahead, make small talk when appropriate — off the clock.




CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

  • Recent Posts

  • Posts You Might Like

  • Subscribe to our feed